At Hearing, Secretary Azar Refuses to Accept Trump Administration Responsibility for Deaths of Over 200,000 Americans
Washington, D.C. (October 2, 2020) — Today, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, held a hearing with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on the Administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Let there be no doubt: the President’s response to the coronavirus crisis has been a failure of historic proportions. COVID-19 has claimed more American lives than the battles of World War I, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Afghanistan War, and Iraq War combined,” said Chairman Clyburn during the hearing. “As HHS Secretary and the first Chairman of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Mr. Secretary, you should have been at the helm of an ambitious national response. Rather than follow the science, you tried to hide, alter, or ignore the science whenever it contradicted the President’s wish to downplay the crisis for perceived political advantage.”
The hearing took place hours after it was revealed that President Trump, the First Lady, and a senior White House aide tested positive for the coronavirus.
Secretary Azar refused to take responsibility for errors in the Administration’s pandemic response, instead blaming the American people for the spread of the disease and the loss of more than 207,000 lives. When asked by Chairman Clyburn what has led to this unprecedented loss of life, Secretary Azar said, “We wish we didn’t have this unprecedented coronavirus pandemic but people do die in pandemics” and said: “The disease spreads. It’s dependent on all of us acting with individual responsibility.”
Prior to the hearing, the Select Subcommittee released a staff analysis detailing 47 instances of political interference in the Administration’s response to the pandemic between February and September 2020.
Secretary Azar provided the following additional testimony during the hearing:
Secretary Azar Conceded Inappropriate Political Interference at HHS, But Refused to Apologize for His Own Role
· When asked about reports that HHS Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs Michael Caputo and Senior Advisor Dr. Paul Alexander sought to alter and suppress CDC scientific reports, Secretary Azar said, “I do not support” Dr. Alexander’s statements and noted that Dr. Alexander no longer works at the Department.
· Secretary Azar blamed FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn for misstatements regarding the efficacy of convalescent plasma during the announcement of FDA’s emergency authorization of this treatment on the eve of the Republican National Convention. He refused to apologize for misleading statements about plasma therapy during the press conference.
Secretary Azar Refused to Say Whether President Trump Instructed Him to “Slow the Testing Down”
· When asked by Rep. Nydia Velázquez whether the President told him to “slow the testing down,” Secretary Azar responded, “I will not discuss my interactions or conversations with the President.”
· Secretary Azar also refused to inform the Select Subcommittee about discussions he had with the President on critical aspects of the Administration’s pandemic response, including social distancing and the use of masks, the President’s campaign rallies, and the President’s praise for China early in the outbreak.
Secretary Azar Suggested that Masks Are Critical for All Americans—Except the President and His Family
· When asked by Rep. Nydia Velázquez about the refusal of the President’s family to wear masks at a presidential debate this week, Secretary Azar stated: “The first family and the protective aspect around the President is a different situation than the rest of us because of the protocols around the first family.”
· However, he disavowed the President’s public messaging disparaging masks, saying, “I have been very clear ever since our scientists began recommending mask wearing especially in April in the reopening guidance that the President published that mask wearing is an important public health tool.”
Secretary Azar Confirmed the Administration Is Trying to End the Affordable Care Act in the Middle of a Pandemic—Without a Plan to Replace It
· Secretary Azar acknowledged that several million Americans have lost health insurance during the pandemic and that the ACA is a critical tool to protect them. When asked by Rep. Andy Kim to identify a solution for these individuals, he said, “If anyone loses their employer sponsored insurance, they actually can immediately enroll in the individual market in an Obamacare plan at that time.”
· Secretary Azar confirmed the Administration does not have a plan to replace the ACA if the Supreme Court strikes it down in a pending case, explaining, “We have a range of approaches and it will depend on the composition of Congress at the time.” Although the Administration is currently supporting a lawsuit to strike down the law, Secretary Azar claimed the prospect of the law being overturned is a “hypothetical event” that remains “very far away.”
After the Select Subcommittee Launched an Investigation, HHS Ad Campaign is Undergoing a “Strategic Review”
· When asked by Rep. Carolyn Maloney about $265 million in CDC and FDA funds that have been diverted for a promotional campaign to “defeat despair and inspire hope” during the pandemic, Secretary Azar said: “I have ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by top HHS public health and communication experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes.”
Secretary Azar Asserted That FDA Will Make Final Decision on a Vaccine, But Conceded That Emergency Authorization is Subject to White House Review
· Secretary Azar stated: “What I’m telling you is at the end of the day it will be the FDA career scientist, Dr. Peter Marks, who is going to make the decision whether a vaccine is safe and effective.” However, when pressed by multiple Select Subcommittee members, Secretary Azar could not say how he would resist pressure from the President to approve a vaccine that was not scientifically validated, and he acknowledged that emergency use authorization guidance on a vaccine “does require White House / OMB review.”
The President’s Views on Herd Immunity Are Contrary to the Science
- When asked about support expressed by the President and multiple political appointees for pursuing uncontrolled “herd immunity”—a strategy that could kill millions of Americans—Secretary Azar disavowed the President’s position, saying, “Herd immunity is not the strategy of the U.S. government with regard to coronavirus.”